Caramelised figs

I’ve mentioned it before; I can’t say no to free produce. Especially when it comes from Marco’s cousin, Lorella, and her husband, Antonio, who have a vegetable garden large enough that it basically makes them self-sustainable. They have ducks and geese, walnut trees and vines for making their own wine. And, right next to the cubby house that my daughter thinks is paradise, is a wonderfully prolific fig tree.

green figs for caramelising

She had thought about not bothering to collect the figs this year and leave them for the birds but I mentioned with only a bit of a hint (while she was giving me tomatoes that she didn’t have time to turn into pomarola) that I’d be happy to take them off her hands if she did collect them. She brought them over in true Lorella fashion at 1am in the morning while it was pouring with rain. Three cases worth, that is, three kilograms.

The figs – those green ones with the jammy centres – were perfectly about to burst. Sweet, squidgy but intact, they were just right for eating. And after I polished off about ten of them, fresh, I decided I better preserve the rest. Rather than make the usual jam, I found this traditional recipe from Emilia-Romagna for preserving them whole, in syrup. It’s pretty much identical to my fig jam recipe (only with slightly less sugar) and instead of letting the figs get broken up and jammy, here they are barely touched, so that they do not break but remain perfectly whole.

caramelised figs with ricotta

The result is something like a lightly-syrupy fig that, when broken open, pours out jam. It’s delicious with soft cheeses, which is how it’s traditionally eaten, as part of a cheese platter. Soft, slightly acidic cheese like stracchino is perfect, but you could also try goat’s cheese or camembert. But I like it too on fresh ricotta (a good one, like this buffalo ricotta, that can stand up on its own), natural yogurt and just stolen right out of the jar, as is.

I went very basic for this recipe but some like to push whole blanched almonds into the centres from the bottom, or spice things up with a bit of cinnamon or a splash of cognac. The traditional Emilian recipe calls for black figs but here in Tuscany green figs are more common, so I have used green.

caramelised figs with ricottacaramelised figs with ricotta

Fichi caramellati (caramelised figs)

Makes about 2 small jars

  • 1 kg figs (choose ones that are intact with no bruises or bursts)
  • 200 grams sugar
  • 1 organic/unwaxed lemon, peeled with a vegetable peeler for strips of peel

The night before, rinse the figs carefully and place them tightly together, bottoms down, in an even layer in a heavy-bottomed pot (one that you would use for jamming). If you need to make two layers, that’s fine, just keep them carefully sitting upright. Pour over the sugar and add the lemon strips and leave overnight in a cool place.

The next day, place them over a gentle heat and let them cook slowly, uncovered, and without stirring. The timing depends entirely on the figs themselves – what kind they are, if they have thick skins, thin ones, how mature they are. Mine took about one hour but I’ve read recipes that call for cooking them for 8-10 hours! So just watch them.

What you will see first is the sugar begins to melt and at the same time, the figs begin to release their own juices and what you want to see eventually is the figs covered in syrup. Eventually, the figs themselves change colour as the syrup permeates them. They become slightly darker, indeed a caramel colour and the skins, too, seem to soak up the syrup.

As they cook, the figs begin to give way entirely, becoming soft and very malleable. They are very delicate so try not to move them or touch them, except if you want to bring your second layer of figs down to one layer. To do so, once space is made when the figs soften, use a tablespoon to gently wiggle each fig from the second layer down into the first layer. You don’t want to burst any or pierce them. You should find that you will easily be able to fit them all in one layer (as they cook they basically halve in volume) and this way they will cook more evenly too.

When you see that they are entirely soft and evenly caramel-coloured and the syrup is bubbling in big bubbles, they are ready. Carefully lift out each boiling hot fig and place in clean jars. If you want to make them boozy, add a splash of cognac or similar to the syrup now. Then pour the syrup over evenly, to cover. Seal the lids tightly – but don’t turn them over or reboil them to seal. Just let them sit on the counter. The heat is enough to make the seals pop down once they begin to cool.



  1. I love this idea of keeping the figs whole. Must be delicious with cheese or prosciutto, or as a dessert, with greek yogurt !

    Will try to make it if I find good figs πŸ˜‰


  2. We are on a fig and ricotta (and prosciutto) kick here. A match made in heaven. If only they were cheaper here in London! I miss free figs from nonna so so much.

  3. sabry says:

    I like so much figs and ricotta, in this way…fantastic also your recipe tiramisΓΉ with figs. are fantastic. I will be happy if you have a look to my blog a live a message (it’s just a little blog born a few months ago!)
    Ciao Sabry

  4. Rosemarie says:

    Figs and cheese make a great combination. I’ve never actually cooked figs before as I just love eating them as they are but never say never. Will give it go one day!

    • Emiko Davies says:

      I know what you mean. It’s a good recipe to have up your sleeve for when you have excess ripe figs and can’t eat them all before they start going bad (like 3 kilos of figs dropped off during a heat wave might do!) πŸ™‚

  5. thefolia says:

    Viva la fichi! I also think of paradise where I used to visit my uncle’s villa with a fig tree.

  6. Jan says:

    Can they be kept unrefrigerated without processing the jar?

    • Emiko Davies says:

      I would process the jar (boiling the jar and its contents for 10 minutes) if you want to keep it on a shelf. Once opened, it should be refrigerated and it’s a good idea to make sure there’s enough syrup to cover the rest of the fruit (though it’s hard, it’s so good you’ll be tempted to drink it all!).

  7. Jillian says:

    I put a little water in mine, and thyme. It’s the bomb! Really good served with fresh thyme and goats cheese!

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